Theater of a City
The Places of London Comedy, 1598-1642
Jean E. Howard
2006 | 288 pages | Cloth $55.00 | Paper $24.95
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Table of Contents
1. Staging Commercial London: The Royal Exchange
2. Credit, Incarceration, and Performance: Staging London's Debtors' Prisons
3. (W)holesaling: Bawdy Houses and Whore Plots in the Drama's Staging of London
4. Ballrooms and Academies: Producing the Cosmopolitan Body in West End London
Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]
London is a large, excellent, and mighty city of business, and the most important in the whole kingdom; most of the inhabitants are employed in buying and selling merchandize [sic], and trading in almost every corner of the world, since the river is most useful and convenient for this purpose, considering that ships from France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Hamburg, and other kingdoms, come almost up to the city, to which they convey goods and receive and take away others in exchange.This description of London, written in 1592 by a German visitor Frederick, Duke of Wirtemberg, attests to the impressive size and perceptible commercial energy of England's premier metropolis. Although Frederick assumed that London was preeminent among other English towns, what he could not know was just how considerably it outstripped them in population and commercial activity at the end of the sixteenth century. In 1600 the population of London included approximately 200,000 people, up from 55,000 just fifty years before. The next largest English city was Norwich, with a population of 15,000 in 1600, followed by York and Bristol with 12,000 people each. Only twenty towns in all of England had populations of 5,000 or more. With London taken out of the mix, the other nineteen towns contained only 136,000 people in total, considerably less than the population of London alone.
Demographics by themselves, of course, do not explain why London was so impressive to this foreign visitor. But they begin to suggest how unusually beyond scale—how vast and sprawlingthe city must have appeared to those hundreds of migrants who streamed into the capital from other parts of England and from the Continent throughout the second half of the sixteenth and then the seventeenth centuries. Not only did London dwarf other English cities; it also rivaled in size the most expansive cities on the Continent. In 1600, London was the third largest city in Europe, outpaced only by Naples and by Paris. By 1650 it was second only to Paris; by 1700 it was first in terms of size. London's spectacular demographic growth during this period was matched only by its economic development. Frederick describes London in 1592 as a "mighty city of business," and it was. By 1600 London was the anchor of a rapidly expanding national market and the chief port through which the nation took part in overseas trade with Europe, with the Levant, and—later in the seventeenth century—with the Americas.
These economic and social developments had a direct impact on the cultural life of London, specifically on the public theater that was one of the chief entertainment institutions to emerge from this period of spectacular demographic, economic, and social change. And, I am going to argue, the theater, in turn, was important in shaping how people of the period conceptualized or made sense of this fast-changing urban milieu. My title, Theater of a City, foregrounds the intimate synergy I see operating between London and the early modern commercial theater. Not only could that theater not have arisen anywhere in England except in London but the course of its development also remained closely linked to changes taking place within the metropolis right up to the Civil War. Many accounts of early modern theater have stressed the genius of some of its theater practitioners, especially Shakespeare. Others have implied that, alongside her accomplishments in nation building and commercial expansion, Elizabeth I brought England to a new ascendancy in the arts. Both, certainly, were important. However, without a commercial theater in place, Shakespeare would have had little chance to display his genius. London provided the material conditions in which such a theater emerged. Moreover, while the Court played a role in protecting the theater from the harsher restrictions the City aldermen might have imposed upon it and in offering limited patronage to particular theater companies, the commercial theater was not essentially a court theater. Westminster was at times a useful ally and at times a troubling force, but from day to day the commercial theater depended on a public to approve its craft and buy its product. And that public comprised Londoners of various stripes, from apprentices to foreign visitors, who had reasons to come to the city.
Exposure to the theater made these Londoners come across fictions that directly addressed the conditions of social change and dislocation occurring around them. Whereas this is true, I would suggest, for each of the popular stage genres that flourished over this vibrant sixty-year period, this book will focus on those plays that most directly address the urban milieu, namely, London comedies. Beginning with William Haughton's Englishmen for My Money (1598) and ending with William Cavendish's The Variety (1640), I explore a succession of comedies that took familiar London places as their setting for stories that addressed some of the most pressing issues facing the city's inhabitants: demographic change and the influx of foreigners and strangers into the city; new ways of making money and of losing it; changing gender roles within the metropolis; and the rise of a distinctive "town culture" in the West End. In creating fictions in which these issues figure prominently and by situating them in particular places such as Gresham's Royal Exchange, the notorious debtors' prisons known as the Counters, or the ubiquitous bawdy houses that not only ringed but permeated the city proper, dramatists gave their stories a local habitation and a name. Consequently, each chapter of this book focuses on a particular place within the city and examines the way in which the stage created significant stories about it. The recurring features of plot and character that structure these stories, and the changes rung on them over time, are crucial evidence of both the social tensions these plays helped to negotiate and the terms in which they made city space socially legible.
Throughout this book I am in part investigating the process by which, to use de Certeau's language, plays helped to transform specific places into significant social spaces, that is, into environments marked by the actions, movements, and daily practices of inhabitants. Stories were central to this transformative process. Through their place-based dramatic narratives, playwrights helped representationally to construct the practices associated with specific urban spaces, directing audiences to the uses to which city spaces could be put and to the privileged modes of conduct and the cultural competencies associated with each. Of course, this was a highly ideological process and not merely a mapping of what "really" happened within the London milieu. Through its fictions drama helped less to transcribe than to construct and interpret the city. In the process playwrights imaginatively transformed urban places into settings for specific kinds of social interaction, whether between a citizen and an alien, a debtor and a creditor, a prostitute and a client, or a dancing master and a country gentleman. As represented on the stage, the places of London thus became a powerful resource in complex and socially significant renditions of urban life.
Place, then, functions in these dramas as the material arena within which urban social relations were regulated and urban problems negotiated. These problems included, for example, foreign encroachment into particular London places, such as the Royal Exchange, or the perilous credit arrangements in an economy in which debt loomed large. In staging the city, dramatists focused on many of the same things as Frederick had done, namely, the demographic expansion and the increasing commercial activity that characterized the metropolis, along with its implication in an international system of trade as signified by the foreign ships that the German visitor had noted along London's docks. Through their urban fictions the city's dramatists responded to and spurred these changes, creating a stage whose popularity testified to the playwrights' attentiveness to the urban anxieties and pleasures they so persistently solicited and addressed.
The following introduction focuses on three things. First, I lay out a fuller picture of the city London had become in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, paying special attention to the mixture of old and new practices and established and emergent communities within and without the city walls. A site of government and of trade, London was rapidly becoming what Crystal Bartolovich has termed a "world city," one experiencing the dislocating effects of an influx of alien people, tongues, and goods, as well as the more mundane dislocations of extremely rapid demographic growth. I look briefly at the different ways London writers, in general, responded to the changing social landscape within which they lived and wrote. Second, I consider further the specific role of the theater in responding to and shaping the changes that were overtaking London, exploring the role of a theater practitioner like Heywood in defining the place of the stage in the city's history and in its bid for status within the international community. Finally, I turn to the actual places and the particular problems I address in each chapter, outlining the many threads of the argument-about the economy, gender, and foreign-native antagonism—that weave themselves through those ensuing chapters.
A City in Flux
While arguing for the essential social stability of London during the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods, historians of the city also take note of the many elements of change—from population growth to the increase in foreign craftsmen operating outside the authorized guilds—that put a strain on London's governing structures and its dominant institutions. I accept the view that city authorities by and large maintained order and governed London with efficiency during this period. I want to shift focus, however, and ask not how well political and social order was maintained in the city but what conceptual challenges were entailed in living in London during this period of growth and change. How did the city come to make sense to its inhabitants, many of them new to London, and what role did the theater play in the complicated ideological process of constructing the city as an imagined entity and of creating fictions that addressed the problems of urban life?
The rapid physical expansion of London that accompanied its demographic growth represented one kind of challenge to inhabitants and to dramatists alike. If the walled city and the immediately adjoining extramural wards once defined the core of the city, by the early seventeenth century suburban growth had begun to spin off new loci of activity and power. Westminster, a separate entity to the west, had always been the seat of monarchical authority, but now the expanse between the city and Westminster began to fill up with fancy shopping streets such as the Strand and by the 1630s with upscale housing developments like the Duke of Bedford's Covent Garden project and with parks and other places of urban leisure. By the third or fourth decade of the seventeenth century, the West End had developed a "town culture" of wit and leisure distinct from the "city culture" to the east or the "court culture" of Westminster. At the same time, urban sprawl was overtaking the northern, eastern, and southern suburban regions. Overcrowding within the walled city and immigration from abroad made the eastern districts along the Thames waterfront, for example, a thriving commercial area both because of activity linked to the shipping trades and also because of crafts that took root there to escape regulation by the city guilds. This rapid physical expansion made the city less easy to know in its entirety—"know" not just in the sense of having familiarity with the streets and buildings of various districts but also in the sense of having a conceptual image of the activities imagined to characterize these new areas and of the kinds of people who inhabited them. Moreover, the physical growth of the city was inseparable from other changes such as overcrowding within the walled city, shoddy buildings thrown up in the suburbs, increased congestion on city streets, and the multiplication of taverns, inns, and places of entertainment in and around the urban area.
Writing about London, as many dramatists did, was one way, of course, to manage change and to provide interpretations and conceptualizations of both new and old aspects of the city discursively. Two works produced near the turn of the century begin to suggest how differently writers, including dramatists, went about the job of textually constructing London and foregrounding particular places within it. John Stow, the city's best-known Elizabethan chronicler, typically equated change with decline and decay and often wrote with nostalgia about what he felt to be a vanishing city. His Survey of London, first published in 1598 and then expanded and reprinted in 1603, unearthed both textual and material traces of the city's past in order to preserve them in printed form. Delving into books and written records of the city, Stow also dug deep into the actual dirt of London, visiting excavations and ruins, tracing the paths of streams that were blocked with the debris of an expanding city. For him, the important places of London were the guildhalls, churches, and public endowments such as hospitals, because they commemorated the shared achievements of what he saw as the city's privileged actors, its civic leaders. Names of mayors, aldermen, great merchants, and municipal benefactors stud his pages. A monumental text, The Survey attempts to give fixity to a city in flux, to recover what the forces of time and change have obliterated, and to give a lasting record of its great edifices and of the great civic figures eminent in its history. Consequently, there is a certain relentlessness to Stow's repetitive ward-by-ward descriptions of guildhalls, churches, and famous citizens. In his commemorative narrative, "the list" is his rhetorical signature.
In the course of his narrative, however, Stow could not help but note what to him were troubling new aspects of London life. These included the desecration of tombs by zealous Protestant reformers in the city's churches, the decline of charity, and the way in which the green fields to the east of the city were being turned into jammed residential areas. In an oft-cited passage, Stow describes how as a boy he fetched milk from farms just to the east of the city walls, an area given over to cramped tenements by 1598. Although Stow loved London's ancient buildings, the deeds of its Lord Mayors and the charitable works of its prominent citizens, he was repelled by aspects of modernity such as the repression of popular pastimes like May Day festivities. Certain parts of contemporary London life he simply elided, such as its thriving theater industry. Although in the 1598 edition of The Survey Stow makes two passing references to the Curtain and the Theater as London playhouses, he does not discuss their importance or the many other playing venues within the city. Both passages, brief as they are, are deleted from the 1603 version.
By contrast, some texts about London written about the same time as Stow's do not just foreground the role of the theater in daily life but focus on an entirely different set of urban places, highlighting all that was new and fashionable within the city. Such is Thomas Dekker's 1609 prose pamphlet, The Gull's Hornbook. This delightful satire exists in a different stylistic and conceptual universe from Stow's urban chorography. Cheap, short, and wickedly irreverent, The Gull's Hornbook gives tongue-in-cheek advice about how to live like a gallant in London. As the word "hornbook" implies, it is a mock pedagogical manual that makes fun of certain city practices but in doing so reveals the new codes of conduct that the "gull" is forever doomed to imitate imperfectly. If, for example, in Stow's city the highest virtue is charity, in the London of Dekker's pamphlet it is fashionability. All advice to the gull rests on the premise that making a good appearance is in every instance of the utmost importance. That means being seen at the right places in the right clothes and saying the right things. Hence, the gull is advised, for example, to go to the middle isle of St. Paul's to show off his fine clothes. In Dekker's text, as opposed to Stow's, a great building such as St. Paul's is less a monument to the city's rich civic past than a fashion runway. Moreover, places largely unmentioned in Stow's narrative achieve great prominence in Dekker's, namely, the taverns, ordinaries, and playhouses that, along with St. Paul's middle isle, offer rich possibilities for self-display. Describing a visit to the theater, Dekker's narrator instructs an aspiring gallant how to show himself to best advantage during a dramatic performance.
It shall crown you with rich commendation to laugh aloud in the middest of the most serious and saddest scene of the terriblest tragedy and to let that clapper, your tongue, be tossed so high that all the house may ring of it. Your lords use it, your knights are apes to the lords and do so too, your Inn o'Court man is zanny to the knights and-marry, very scurvily-comes likewise limping after it; be thou a beagle to them all and never lin snuffing till you have scented them, for by talking and laughing like a ploughman in a morris you heap Pelion upon Ossa, glory upon glory.Of course, such outlandish behavior would actually heap ignominy on ignominy, but the fact that the would-be gallant does not really know how to make himself an object of admiration only flatters those who do and points to the importance of "proper" self-display and fashionability as emerging urban values. As The Gull's Hornbook is a satire, it implicitly critiques what it anatomizes: for example, the behavior of penniless gentlemen who live for appearances often with no money in their pockets and no food in their stomachs. But in doing so it strikingly calls attention to a cityscape defined less by churches and guildhalls than by places of consumption and pleasure, and it points to the new practices of display they encourage.
If Stow's text is steeped in nostalgia, Dekker's pamphlet is entirely of the moment. If Stow hardly mentions the theater, Dekker makes it central to the daily life of a London gallant. If Stow seems oblivious to the new products such as tobacco penetrating the expanding London market, tobacco's presence suffuses The Gull's Hornbook. And if Stow praises the charitable deeds of London's honorable citizens, Dekker focuses on the fashionable appearance of gallants and aspirants to their sophistication. It is as if everything that Stow despises and pushes to the margins of his text rises to the surface in Dekker's pamphlet. In the bookstalls of London, these divergent visions of the city would have coexisted, each turning the city into a print commodity, but with very different understandings of what were the important places and actors that define London life. The opposite of a monumental text, The Gull's Hornbook presented itself as a cheap and fashionable commodity, aimed not at London's solid citizens but at a smart set of urban gallants and would-be gallants who could feel superior to Dekker's gull and yet take pleasure in recognizing the text's landscape of fashionable performance.
That London to a Stow could seem disturbingly in decline and to a Dekker exhilaratingly, if problematically, full of new possibilities, resulted in part from their conflicting responses to the demographic and commercial changes to which Frederick, Duke of Wirtemberg's description of the city pointed. Both deserve greater attention. I have already given numbers indicating the explosive rate of growth in the city in the second half of the sixteenth century. But who was represented by these numbers and what was their impact on the city's life? Because of the high death rate in London, much of the population growth had to be the result of in-migration. Many people from other parts of the British Isles moved to London to find employment, swelling the city's population and enhancing its labor force and at the same time creating problems in terms of housing, sanitation, and public order. Technically, those who came to the city and were not made free of its guilds were known as "foreigners," a usage that today we would reserve for those born outside the boundaries of a given nation-state. But while the OED, as early as 1413, records that a "foreigner" can refer to "A person born in a foreign country: one from abroad or of another nation; an alien" (1.a), by 1460 the term also meant "One of another county, parish, etc., a stranger, outsider. In early use especially one not a member of any particular guild, a non-freeman" (2). Early modern London was full of this kind of foreigner: those born outside the city and not members of its guilds but who worked in and around the metropolis as manservants, day laborers, chambermaids, and workers in unsanctioned guilds operating in suburban locations. In addition, many young men came to London from the provinces to take up apprenticeships. Part of the guild economy, they nonetheless were new to the city. Moreover, London was periodically visited by "foreigners" who did not mean to settle but to take up temporary residence: gentry up from the country for the law terms, aristocrats in attendance at the court in Westminster, and the women who increasingly accompanied their husbands for shopping and entertainment in London.
These foreigners were joined by a sizable group of those born outside England entirely. In the late sixteenth century the greatest number of these "aliens" or "strangers" (that is, "One who belongs to another country, a foreigner" OED 1) were religious refugees seeking a safe haven in London. Stranger merchants had, of course, long been a feature of London life. Flemish merchants were important in London in the thirteenth century; Italian and German or Hanse merchants rose to prominence in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; the French became influential in the first half of the sixteenth. In every case, these merchants played a major role in England's overseas trade, both in the export of its wool and cloth and in the import of finished goods to England through entrepots in Venice, Lisbon, or Antwerp. The English crown needed the expertise of these stranger merchants and granted them monopolies and privileges, which, however, it could also revoke when pressure from domestic merchants or antialien feeling became too intense. But by the end of the sixteenth century, while there were still a number of alien merchants at work in the city, the majority of strangers were skilled craftsmen who hailed from the Low Countries and France, driven to England by the push of religious persecution and the pull of economic opportunity. In 1567 the "Dutch" comprised 74.5 percent of the stranger residents in London and Westminster, the French 15.5 percent. Besides merchants, they included "schoolmasters, surgeons, physicians, engineers, musicians, and artists." Collectively, they probably made up 4 to 5 percent of London's total population, though their numbers could seem greater when they clustered in particular residential neighborhoods, calling attention to their cumulative presence. As a result of the high degree of migration to the city, it was inevitable that established citizens would have encounters with new arrivals daily, both from other parts of the British Isles and from abroad. So how were these foreigners and strangers comprehended?
There is no simple answer. For a long time it has been assumed that London was, at the end of the sixteenth century, an insular and xenophobic place. There is evidence for that view in the antialien riots that occasionally broke out in the city, usually motivated by economic anxieties about the ways in which foreign workers might be draining away national resources or horning in on English craft production. Popular xenophobia was undoubtedly present in the period, and while the state realized the benefits that could accrue from the skills and expertise of alien workers and merchants, it indirectly fueled anxiety about strangers by supporting a mercantilist ideology that stressed the importance of accumulating wealth within the nation and not allowing bullion to "bleed out" to foreign countries, especially through alien merchants. However, if there was a xenophobic impulse in English culture during the period, it was countered, especially in London, by a competing cosmopolitanism more tolerant of difference and more inclined to look beyond the boundaries of the nation-state with something other than contempt or fear.
To a certain extent, identification with persecuted Protestants from the Continent could counterbalance anxiety about their possible deleterious effects on the English economy. Perhaps to an even greater extent, trade counterbalanced xenophobic impulses. I do not mean to suggest that commerce among nations automatically eventuates in tolerance and enlightened thinking. That would be uncritically to echo apologists for the benefits of unfettered trade. I mean something more hard-edged altogether, namely, that the expansion of overseas trade mandated a kind of forced cosmopolitanism, a recognition that one had to undertake certain kinds of negotiations with strangers in order to further one's own interests. An example may begin to suggest the complex intermixing of xenophobia and cosmopolitanism that could exist side by side in city institutions and communities. Candidates for employment by the East India Company regularly presented as chief qualifications their skill at foreign languages, not just European languages such as Italian, French, Dutch, or Portuguese (although familiarity with any of these was frequently claimed as an asset) but also Persian, Malacan, and Arabic. Many of these candidates had been sent abroad at a young age specifically to receive language training in Lisbon, Istanbul, or Surat, and they spoke confidently of their knowledge of foreign tongues and of foreign customs. It was just these sorts of qualifications that made particular candidates successful in the highly competitive scramble for jobs in the great trading companies. Such men could get on in distant ports without giving offense and could deal with the complexities of trade in a foreign zone.
The other side of the coin, however, was that a very thin line separated the desirability of such cosmopolitan skills and the danger that having them could make one seem a threat to English interests. Some candidates for jobs were turned away precisely because they had been too long in the employ of the Dutch or the Portuguese, even though that employment had given them experience in the very regions where the East India Company wished to trade, or because it was feared that long stays in Lisbon had led to their conversion to Catholicism or long stays in Istanbul to their conversion to Islam. One could, in a sense, be perceived as too cosmopolitan, as having lost one's identification with Englishness and the English national interest.
If London was not a uniformly xenophobic place, then, neither did it embody the Derridean ideal of the city as an exceptional arena of cosmopolitan civility, a safe haven from the passions of nationalism and religious sectarianism. Instead, I would make the more modest claim that the demographic and economic changes overtaking the city made ordinary Londoners confront in a new way both the reality and the idea of strangers in their midst and the necessity of learning to deal with foreign cultures and languages. In the middle ages, overseas merchants had regularly been involved with trade in Europe. In a prenational period, the international merchant class was, in fact, to some extent a pan-European group. But in the sixteenth century, identification with country heightened even as contact with and knowledge about strangers probably intensified for more of the urban population as a result of migration from the Continent, the uptick of overseas trade passing through the docks of London, and the circulation of printed texts dealing with the voyages of exploration, travelers' reports, and captivity tales. Plays were among the texts that most often represented strangers or the influx of foreign practices or commodities into the metropolis, whether on the main floor or in the upper shops of the Royal Exchange, within the city's bawdy houses or in its sophisticated ballrooms and academies of manners. Consequently, I will deal with the particulars of these representations of strangers and alien ways in nearly all the chapters that follow.
Certainly the city as a whole was a less insular place than it had been fifty years before. London was becoming an increasingly miscegenated space, by which I mean a place of mixing, where foreigners from Lancashire pressed up against established members of the London guilds and against stranger craftsmen. Between foreigners and aliens, London must at time have felt like a city where nearly everyone, to one degree or another, was "new," and where the mixing of different kinds of people was inevitable. In one of his last essays (1642), Henry Peacham wrote about "The Art of Living in London" in which he describes the skills needed to live "in a populous place, where multitudes of people reside." London, of course, is his premier example of such a place, and in depicting the city he stresses the mixture of various kinds of residents that the city attracted:
noble and simple, rich and poor, young and old, from all places and countries, either for pleasure (and let me add besides, to save the charge of housekeeping in the country) or for profit, as lawyers to the terms, countrymen and women to Smithfield and the markets; or for necessity, as poor young men and maids to seek services and places; servingmen, masters; and some others, all manner of employment. (p. 243)It is to this constant influx of new residents that Peacham directs warnings about the dangers of city life. His language is richly metaphorical. London is like a "vast sea, full of gusts, fearful-dangerous shelves and rocks, ready at every storm to sink and cast the weak and unexperienced bark," (p. 243), "a wood where there is as many briers as people" (p. 244), "a quicksand" (p. 245), and the seat of several "poisons" (p. 245) such as drunkenness, gaming, prostitution, and reckless spending. It is a place where an inexperienced newcomer needs a skillful pilot, "another Columbus or Drake" (p. 244), as guide. Peacham, of course, offers himself in this role.
The language of exploration and the invocation of the names of Columbus and Drake are, I would argue, of special interest because they suggest that the difficulties of negotiating the city are in some sense seen as comparable to the dangers of negotiating the New World or the far Asian ports that Drake visited on his round-the-world navigation. People coming to London from outside the city or from outside the country would know neither its geography, its customs nor, as Peacham stresses, its particular dangers. Aids were necessary: prescriptive tracts such as Peacham's, elaborating the dangers of urban life and offering advice for escaping them; networks of family or friends who could orient one and provide contacts and jobs; and places of resort such as public theaters where the act of common spectatorship could make one feel at one with the anonymous others who paid their pennies for the same entertainment. London was not necessarily transparent to those who lived there. Demographic growth, physical expansion, high death rates, and high in-migration meant that the city was opaque and unfamiliar to many of its inhabitants. The theater helped to make sense of city life. Play after play foreigners and strangers intermingled with London-born citizens; suburbs and walled city were juxtaposed; and city worthies were memorialized even as the seamier side of London life—prostitution, con men, crime—was dramatized. The theater, of course, did not just refer to these aspects of city living; it wove them into stories that interpreted, hierarchized, and distinguished the incompetent from the boorish, the insider from the pariah, in the process figuring new social relations for an expanding metropolis and new solutions to pressing urban problems.
In representing the city, the stage also focused on the economic and commercial aspects of the city's expansion with particular intensity. In the early seventeenth century, England, then in the early stages of capitalist development, was undergoing a period of economic change. London was central to those changes. First, the city was becoming the hub of an integrated national market linking the countryside and the provincial towns to the capital city, encouraging traffic in goods and people between London and the rest of the British Isles. This process of market integration coincided temporally with the evolving consolidation of administrative and political power in Westminster. London was at once emerging as a powerful capital city and the commercial center of an increasingly centralized national market.
Second, as a commercial center London was increasingly linked not just to the rest of the British Isles but to the rest of the world. Its status as a port was crucial in this regard. In The Perspective of the World, volume 2 of his Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century, Fernand Braudel traces the importance of large commercial cities to the economic life of Europe in the period 1400 to 1700. Always ports, these cities—Venice, Antwerp, Genoa, Amsterdam, and finally London—were at the epicenter of important economic arenas that depended on the central city for concentrations of capital, access to credit, sources of news, and stable laws governing mercantile transactions. In the late sixteenth century, after the fall of Antwerp as the major northern entrepot, London and Amsterdam both began to emerge as such cities. They did so at a time when England was no longer solely dependent on the export of wool and cloth for its financial well-being. With the establishment of the London-based joint stock and regulated trading companies such as the Levant Company and the East India Company (1592 and 1599), English merchants were increasingly engaged in the reexport trade. That is, they were importing luxury goods such as silks and spices and currants from Eastern markets and reexporting them to Europe and the New World for profit.
The consequences of this new kind of trade were multiple. For one thing, the growth of the joint stock companies meant increased contact with inhabitants of the distant port cities to which English ships were now sailing. Englishmen were voyaging to Virginia, certainly, and also to the ports of the eastern Mediterranean. Moreover, as the crews of English ships had to be replenished in these foreign ports, London also contained seamen from every European and Mediterranean country to which English ships ventured. Long distance trade also brought many new goods into London's domestic economy. As F. J. Fisher long ago demonstrated, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James, London was increasingly a center for conspicuous consumption, especially the consumption of luxury goods, though many products such as tobacco, sugar, and currants were bought not just by the wealthy but by ordinary citizens as well. The culture of display highlighted in Dekker's The Gull's Hornbook depended on an urban milieu in which people could be judged by what they could buy, even though such acquisitiveness was often morally condemned or subject to satiric treatment.
Moreover, and this has been perhaps the most widely noted aspect of economic change in the period, market exchanges were becoming increasingly abstract and generalized. While England still had many market towns and fairs where trade took place directly between buyers and sellers, in many cases exchange occurred in what Jean-Christophe Agnew has termed "a placeless market" in which participants were unknown to each other and transactions were conducted through middlemen using new financial instruments such as bills of exchange or other forms of credit. With the labor of production increasingly occluded, commodities acquired fetishistic value, floating free from their makers but increasingly defining the subjectivity of their buyers.
I want to stress that many of the consequences of the changes occurring in London's commercial life were understood only in retrospect. By the middle of the eighteenth century England would occupy a commanding role in a world economy centered in London but penetrating to many parts of the globe. This outcome was not imaginable in 1600. In fact, in 1600, despite the enormous changes that were happening in the city, many Londoners probably still felt peripheral to the rest of Europe and in some ways inferior to the cultures and the commercial and military strength of Mediterranean powers, whether that be Spanish, Ottoman, or Italian. The long history of England's peripheral position on the rim of Northern Europe was not erased in a few decades. Nor was the growth of the monopolistic joint stock companies universally greeted with enthusiasm. Many small traders were barred entirely from the traffic controlled by these companies and resented the profits they made. And even as the presence of increasing numbers of aliens in London caused some degree of anxiety, so did the emergence of a culture of consumption. My emphasis on a city in flux is meant to highlight not only the many material changes overtaking London but also the discursive changes and struggles necessary to make cognitive and ideological sense of life in the city. And this is where the theater enters the story.
The commercial theater was one of the new institutions—along with such things as the Royal Exchange, joint stock trading companies, and Bridewell workhouse—that had their origins in the special conditions obtaining in London in the second half of the sixteenth century; moreover, the popularity of that theater arose in part because of the work it unconsciously but robustly and imaginatively performed in accommodating Londoners of all stripes to the somewhat bewildering world in which they were living. A popular forum speaking to the full range of London inhabitants, the theater drew its energies from the demographically diverse, commercially vital milieu in which it arose.
It is one of the truisms of theater history that something significant happened when, in 1576, James Burbage erected the Theater, traditionally regarded as the city's first purpose-built commercial playing space, in Shoreditch. The point is not that before 1576 there had not been troupes of professional players who performed at court, for noblemen, and in various English towns or foreign venues. There had been such troupes. Nor is the point that there had never been buildings, such as inns with open courtyards or inner rooms, where theater had regularly been performed for paying customers within London before 1576. There had been such buildings, including the Boar's Head and the Bel Savage Inns, and they continued to be used after the Theater was built. Rather, the innovation lies in the erection of special buildings permanently dedicated to the commercial production of plays, buildings where professional acting troupes could have a London base. From there they could branch out to act at court during the Christmas holidays, go to the country when the plague shut their London theaters, or leave the city when for other reasons it made economic sense to take the troupe on tour.
The erection of these theaters required an extraordinary convergence of factors. As Walter Cohen has argued, in England "no other locale [besides London] provided the economic and demographic conditions necessary for the successful interaction of investor, actor, dramatist, and audience." Commercial theater was not tied to a ritual or a liturgical calendar; it was a perpetual theater that made the possibility for commercial, secular recreation an everyday occurrence. It was part of an entertainment industry that only a rapidly commercializing culture could sustain. The theater industry, like so much else in the London of the latter sixteenth century, was a mixed affair, part capitalist venture, part artisanal craft guild. To build a public theater required amassing significant amounts of capital and expending it to lease land on which to erect a purpose-built playing space. This a number of entrepreneurial Londoners, including James Burbage and Francis Langley, were able to do. The day-to-day operations of some of the acting troupes who occupied these theaters, like Shakespeare's Lord Chamberlain's Men, resembled a miniature version of a joint stock company. Sharers pooled money to distribute risk and to underwrite expenses, including the hiring of other actors. The sharers then drew equally on any profits. But within the companies, social relations had a craft guild cast with young boys serving in apprentice roles to older actors. The parallel to guilds was limited, however. Unlike guilds, theater companies had no halls, courts, or structures of regulation. The remnants of guild organization present in these companies existed cheek by jowl with the investment structures and high-risk characteristic of capitalist undertakings. Legally, these companies were only allowed to exist if they had the patronage of a nobleman. Otherwise, the actors could be condemned as rogues and vagabonds. Notionally, they thus existed as servants to an aristocratic lord; but in actuality they were part of a complex commercial venture.
The building of the early commercial theaters—the Theater, the Curtain, the Swan, the Fortune, the Globe—did not, therefore, just magically happen. It occurred because of a particular conjunction of events that also produced other changes in the city. If capital was available, so were audiences. The growth in London's population was a crucial element in this theater's success. Commercial theaters could function because there were enough people to sustain repertory companies performing fairly continuously throughout the year and a Court to the West of the city that regularly sought command performances during the holiday seasons. Moreover, the nature of the London population was as important as its size. As I have indicated, London was increasingly a place visited by non-Londoners, men and women who came from the country to do business, shop, or bring an action in the London courts, and by strangers of all sorts-ambassadors, overseas merchants, travelers such as Thomas Platter and Frederick, Duke of Wirtemberg. The theater attracted the custom of just such visitors; it had become an early tourist mecca. Just as importantly, it was, as The Gull's Hornbook indicates, a place where the fashionable or the would-be fashionable gentlemen of the town congregated to display themselves, and there were many such in London, either studying at the Inns of Court or "looking about" for court employment or the command of a military unit mustering for Ireland or the Continent. And, of course, there were as far as we can tell just a great many ordinary people who found the commercial theater an important communal pastime.
In addition, the Crown supported the public theaters when the city fathers attempted to shut down playing venues on the grounds of their supposedly ungodly or disorderly effects. Perhaps it did so simply to provide the urban population with the equivalent of bread and circuses, public entertainment that would take attention away from public discontents. In allowing the theaters to operate, the Crown supported an institution that provided a place of common resort for many different kinds of ordinary Londoners, including many new to the city. Offering an alternative to the cycle and liturgical drama that was increasingly being suppressed, if not quite eradicated, throughout the country, it provided occasions for recreation in a culture in which the number of saints days and religious holidays was being restricted. In addition, through its rapidly expanding array of theatrical offerings, it provided Londoners with ways to negotiate—through the mediation of staged fictions—some of the changes overtaking these increasingly cosmopolitan urban dwellers.
Thomas Heywood, that naive and often-scorned champion of the city, was one early modern dramatist who recognized the special nature of the link between London and its theaters. In his Apology for Actors, Heywood, of course, was seeking to legitimize the theaters and to protect them from opponents, but he did so by creating a narrative in which the greatness of London was uniquely guaranteed by the greatness of its theaters as, he argues, had been true for all cosmopolitan metropolitan centers from time out of mind. Repeatedly in his treatise, Heywood praised the theaters of ancient Rome, and repeatedly he compared contemporary London to the ancient city. "Rome was a Metropolis, a place whither all the nations knowne under the Sunne, resorted: so is London, and being to receive all Estates, all Princes, all Nations, therefore to affoord them all choyce of pastimes, sports, and recreations: yet were there Theaters in all the greatest Cities of the world, as we will more largely particularize hereafter" (C2). Besides Rome's theater, he also praised the playhouses of ancient Jerusalem, Athens, Thebes, and Carthage, and in modern-day Paris, Madrid, Verona, Florence, and Antwerp.
By thrusting London into such distinguished urban company, Heywood was using the theater as a central part of a chauvinistic testimony to the city's achievement of a certain international status. Of London theaters he boasted: "Playing is an ornament to the Citty, which strangers of all Nations, repairing hither, report of in their Countries, beholding them here with some admiration: for what variety of entertainment can there be in any Citty of Christendome, more then in London?" (F3). Heywood thought theater valuable in making evident to strangers the magnificence of his northern metropolis and, by extension, the English nation; and he was right about the attractiveness of the theaters to foreign visitors such as Thomas Platter, many of whom recorded a visit to the theater as noteworthy as a visit to St. Paul's, London Bridge, the Exchange, or Westminster Abbey. Heywood was always aware of the competitive contemporary world in which London was ranked and rated against other cities of Christendom and with some outside that boundary. If Paris and Antwerp had great theaters, so must London.
But at times Heywood stressed something else, namely, the antiquity of London's theaters and their role as conduits for ancient theatrical traditions. In this project he sounds at times like John Stow, digging deep into London's past, linking the contemporary city to a venerated past. For example, in The Apology Heywood makes London, through its theaters, not only the rival of contemporary Venice but also the inheritor of the ancient city culture of Greece and Rome. In a famous passage describing the theaters of Rome, the landscapes and institutions of modern London mixed with elements of the older city, he writes: "I read of a Theater built in the midst of the river Tyber, standing on pillers and arches, the foundation wrought under water like London-bridge, the Nobles and ladyes in their Barges and Gondelayes, landed at the very stayres of the galleryes. After these they composed others, but differing in forme from the Theater, or Ampi-theater, and every such was called Circus, the frame Globe-like, & merely round" (D3v). Here, the foundations of an ancient theater remind Heywood of the foundations of London Bridge, the ladies in their gondolas conjure up the boatmen ferrying theatergoers across the Thames, and the round theaters of Rome morph into the roundish frame of Shakespeare's Globe. One can read, as in a watery mirror, the lineaments of one city in the features of the other.
Elsewhere in his tract, Heywood uses genealogies to suggest the persistence of the past in present cityscapes and institutions. Speaking of the ancient lineage of acting he says: "Thus our Antiquity we have brought from the Grecians in the time of Hercules: from the Macedonians in the age of Alexander: from the Romans long before Julius Caesar, and since him, through the reigns of 23 Emperours succeeding, even to Marcus Aurelius. After him they were supported by the Mantuans, Venetians, Valencians, Neopolitans, the Florentines, and others" (G2v-G3). He traces the lineage of theater further until he comes to England. "But in no Country they are of that eminence that ours are: so our most royall, and ever renouned soveraigne, hath licensed us in London: so did his predecessor, the thrice vertuous virgin, Queene Elizabeth, and before her, her sister, Queene Mary, Edward the sixth, and their father, Henry the eighth: and before these in the tenth yeare of the reigne of Edward the fourth, Anno 1490" (G3). In a simultaneous gesture, Heywood uses the theater to link contemporary London to the cities of ancient Greece, Rome, and Macedonia, and to extend London's own native theater tradition as far into the past as he can find textual traces to authorize the operation. For much of The Apology, Heywood thus thinks of cities in terms of filiation and inheritance as much as in terms of urban and national rivalries. Theater is a sign of insular pride; but it is also a sign of cosmopolitan integration into a community of great cities spanning the contemporary and ancient worlds. Through his narratives, Heywood thus transforms the place of the London theaters into a space in which sophisticated playing and distinguished patrons and visitors attest to the city's international preeminence.
Heywood's account of the dramatic genres that make up London theater's repertoire of forms likewise stresses both what is new and what is ancient in the theater's practices. Heywood highlights tragedy and comedy and their instructive value and ancient lineage. Tragedies, for example, "teach the subjects obedience to their King" (F3v) while comedy shows "others their slovenly and unhansome behaviour, that they may reforme that simplicity in themselves, which others make their sport" (F4). Ancient rulers and their communities learned from these generic templates, and so can the English. But particularly in his account of the workings of "domesticke hystories" (B4), Heywood famously allows his particular pride in Englishness to blossom forth:
what English blood seeing the person of any bold English man presented and doth not hugge his fame, and hunnye at his valor, pursuing him in his enterprise with his best wishes, and as beeing wrapt in contemplation, offers to him in his hart all prosperous performance. . . ? What coward to see his contryman valiant would not bee ashamed of his owne cowardice? What English Prince should hee behold the true portrature of that [f]amous King Edward the third, foraging France, taking so great a King captive in his owne country, quartering the English Lyons with the French Flower-delyce, and would not bee suddenly Inflam'd with so royall a spectacle, being made apt and fit for the like atchievement" (D4).Here, the London stage, it is suggested, uses particular kinds of fictions to body forth a peculiarly English greatness and to create English subjects uniquely fit for great achievement. National pride and cosmopolitan aspiration for inclusion in a roster of great international cities coalesce in Heywood's tract, starkly revealing the ambition of a northern and insular nation and the role of its greatest urban theaters in adumbrating those ambitions.
One kind of play produced in great abundance by the commercial stage after 1598 was London comedy, a subgenre of that kind of play characterized by Heywood as dealing with the "slovenly and unhansome behavior," which spectators must eschew. That I use the term London comedy to describe the kind of play that most interests me deserves further comment. For some years critics have been writing about that group of plays usually referred to as "city comedies." The label has been attached to a number of works written between about 1598 and 1615, which take London (or cities that are screens for London) as their setting and deal in some detail with the geography of that urban setting and with the non-noble characters who people it. Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton are often singled as the prime writers of city comedy, a genre that in their hands involves a satiric examination of city vices and follies such as greed, lechery, and undeserved pretensions to wit. Typically these plays, which are based on Roman New Comedy, pit gentlemanly "gallants" against artisans and merchants for preeminence within the city milieu, and they pay detailed attention to the topography of the city and to urban culture in terms of its fashions, typical occupations, street slang, and con games. These city plays represent a remarkable break from the conventions of the "higher" genre such as tragedy and the national history play. Seldom dealing with monarchs and rarely with aristocrats, they pitch their social register lower. In part, the historicity of these city comedies consists precisely of the fact that they mark a moment in early modern culture when urban commoners, those below the rank of gentlemen, could become the protagonists in theatrical fictions.
As I have argued elsewhere, genre was a key concept for organizing textual production in the early modern period. A term frequently employed by early modern writers, genre indicated the implicit system that made one kind of text distinguishable from another in a relational field. Practically, tacit knowledge of dramatic kinds helped readers or spectators approach texts with particular sets of expectations; at the same time it helped writers by giving them forms and matter for imitation and starting points for improvisations on and transformations of received material. However, in thinking about the early modern stage, in particular, it is important to stress that the utility of generic categories was less ontological than provisional and productive. Dramatic genres were not and are not essential and immutable kinds of writing. Rather, in the early modern stage, generic differences emerged relationally and were performed into being, and the dramatic genre system was constantly in flux in response to a wide range of pressures including the collaborative nature of much dramatic production and the competitive pressures fueling theatrical output. Barbara Mowat, using the work of Alistair Fowler, has argued that genre in general is most usefully understood on the model of "family resemblance" in that works within a generic "family" are related in a variety of ways without necessarily sharing any singular feature in common. Works may in fact exhibit features of more than one family without any principle of exclusivity being violated. Some of the rough and ready vitality of the popular plays of the commercial London theater stems precisely from the way they mix and match, repeat and vary, intermix and alter the many generic templates that persisted from the classical and medieval periods as well as those that have origins within the early modern period itself.
Consequently, I want to suggest that the kind of satiric city plays paradigmatically produced by Jonson and Middleton does not exclusively define the period's production of London-based comedies. There are several subgenres within this larger family of plays which includes, but is not confined to, the satiric plays that have traditionally loomed large in critical discussions of city comedy. Together, all of these subgenres share a number of features: they all use London or a lightly veiled substitute as their setting; all deal primarily with non-noble figures; all create comedy from the stuff of urban life; all in some way negotiate the presence of non-native Londoners and non-native commodities within the space of the city. Yet the various subgenres of what I call London comedies are also different in important ways. For example, there are some London chronicle comedies—such as The Shoemaker's Holiday (1599) or If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody, Part II (1606)—that draw part of their matter from historical sources: either the national chronicles of writers such as Holinshed or Hall or the urban chronicles of Grafton or Stow. In a relational field of dramatic genres, these chronicle London comedies are written in view of and partly as an alternative to the national history play. Although monarchs tend to make an appearance in these works, and they are always acknowledged in the narrative as the most powerful authorities in the play's imagined world, chronicle comedies do not tell the monarch's story as does the national history play. Rather, they foreground the stories of prominent London citizens such as Simon Eyre or Thomas Gresham, thus performing the cultural act of subordinating the monarchical to the citizen narrative even while overtly confirming the preeminence of the monarch. In tone, chronicle comedies are celebratory, not satiric, making heroes of London citizens such as Dick Wittington, exuberantly installing civic worthies in the starring roles the history genre had reserved for kings, dukes, and earls. Geographically, chronicle comedies usually take place within the old walled part of London and often focus on monumental civic structures within those walls: Leadenhall in Shoemaker, The Royal Exchange in If You Know Not Me, and the Guildhall and Crosby House in a related play, Edward IV, Parts I and II. Membership in the London guilds is important to social identity in these plays, and gallants are usually peripheral figures.
By contrast, the satiric city comedies associated with Middleton and Jonson stress satire over celebration, omit kings altogether, and add gallants as primary figures in their fictions. They do not draw from chronicle sources and replace the emphasis on monumental civic edifices with the depiction of ordinary shops, taverns, and, interestingly, prisons. Bridewell, the Clink, the Counter, and various unnamed jails impart a penitentiary feel to a number of these plays so that while urban vice is sometimes simply mocked by satiric laughter, it is also sometimes controlled by the threat of incarceration in satiric comedies as diverse as The Honest Whore, Eastward Ho, Bartholomew Fair, and The Dutch Courtesan. Geographically, satiric city comedies are typically set in the walled city, though with many mentions of and excursions to the suburbs, while a play such as Epicoene takes place mostly near the Strand in the newer and more fashionable part of London between the city and Westminster.
Epicoene, moreover, points to yet another subgenre of London comedy developed primarily in the 1620s and 1630s and including works such as Hyde Park, Covent Garden, and The Asparagus Garden. These plays focus almost entirely on places of urban leisure, such as the ballrooms of the urban gentry, city parks, or the fashionable piazza at the center of the upscale Covent Garden residential development. The setting of these London "town" comedies is mostly the West End outside the old city walls; gallants dominate the narrative; and neither guildsmen nor places of work are foregrounded. Rather, they showcase the lifestyle of a sophisticated urban elite. Wit and good manners are valued in these comedies, and women often function within them as the arbiters of taste and manners rather than as shoppers or gadding wives.
By this admittedly thumbnail sketch, I want to suggest that the large family grouping I am calling London comedy is a more varied dramatic form that we have sometimes assumed, that it has a shelf-life extending well into the 1630s, and that it negotiated many more urban places than simply the city's shops and more urban issues than just those involving a shift to a placeless market economy, although certainly it also did that. The role of women in the city, the culture of debt as well as of abundance that accompanied commercial change, the presence of foreigners and strangers in urban life, and the development of new forms of cultural capital, including urbane wit and the ability to speak French and to dance the latest dance—all of these were recurring aspects of the London plays in one or another of its incarnations. Moreover, while for some time a number of the satiric London plays were approached primarily in moral terms (what was satirized and what were the standards of value implicitly governing the satire?), I find it more useful to suspend moral judgements and to think of these plays as sometimes confused attempts to come to terms with a complicated and changing city. If, however, we think of them as providing imaginary resolutions to real social problems, then we must also admit that, like the culture in which they were imbedded, plays did not always have coherent solutions, not even imaginary ones, to the bewildering and contested culture of which they were a part. I would argue that the theater was popular in part because it was not a moralizing institution but an opportunistic one, making fictions from the arenas of life—gender and family life, commerce, encounters with foreignness—where change was most immediate and solutions least prescripted. What remains interesting, however, is the record, these plays afford, of the messy struggle to come to terms with issues that continued to provoke repeated attempts at narrative resolution.
One of the notable features of all kinds of London comedy is their attention to the places of the city. Unlike the unlocalized spaces of much Shakespearean tragedy, London comic drama frequently sets the action in particular city districts, buildings, or streets. In The Roaring Girl, Moll meets Laxton in Lincoln Inn's Fields; in Chaste Maid in Cheapside, points in and around this famous goldsmith district, including the wharfs along the Thames, are carefully enumerated; in Covent Garden, Bedford's upscale piazza and the houses and taverns that surround it anchor the action; and in Every Man out of His Humour, we have the first instance of London comedy's preoccupation with St. Paul's Walk as a satiric setting for the display of urban vanity. The list could be extended indefinitely. Nearly every London play to some extent localizes the action by referring to the streets and landmarks of the city and by setting key scenes in recognizable places. As I will discuss at some length in the ensuing chapters, such citations serve complex purposes, not all of which simply aim at giving audiences the pleasure of recognition. Rather, in invoking the places of the city and filling them with action, the plays also construct the city and make it intelligible for those unfamiliar with its places or the uses to which they can be put, and they parse the permissible and impermissible actions attendant on those places.
In this book I focus on four city places that the drama turns into significant social spaces by its repeated narration of them. My premise is that we can learn something about how the drama engages with issues that draw the attention of London spectators by looking at its iterated use of particular urban locations. Sites, I will argue, become ideologically charged as they are visited and revisited by various dramatists and as they become connected with particular urban actors and with particular kinds of stories. One play with a key scene set in St. Paul's Walk is interesting; a series of such scenes by successive dramatists reveals the collective cultural labor by which a place becomes a vehicle through which particular kinds of social problematics are addressed, visited, and revisited. Consequently, all of the places I address in this book appear in a number of plays; each becomes associated with key social actors, whether they be debtors, whores, international merchants, or French dancing masters; each addresses an associated cluster of issues, whether those be the cultural competencies that allow mastery within certain social milieu, the relationship between native and stranger urban inhabitants, or the changing place of women in London's urban landscape. Collectively, each sequence of plays participates over time in rendering the city ideologically knowable, in regulating conduct within it, and in negotiating the most vexed issues with which Londoners were confronted.
The first chapter deals with one of the truly consequential London buildings to be erected in the city in the second half of the sixteenth century, Thomas Gresham's Royal Exchange. Purpose-built to imitate the great trading bourses on the Continent and to provide a place for international merchants to gather, the Exchange became one of the most celebrated landmarks of Tudor-Stuart London. Mentioned by travelers and depicted by famous engravers and map makers, the Royal Exchange also figured in a number of London comedies, including the first to be written, William Haughton's Englishmen for My Money (1598). In this chapter I argue that the Royal Exchange came paradoxically to symbolize London's pride in its growing role as an international entrepot and its simultaneous anxiety about the traffic of strangers that such a role mandated. Several plays, including Haughton's, but also Thomas Heywood's If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody, Part II, foreground the Exchange in plots that attempt to come to terms with the changing nature of London's commercial life and with the vexed relationship between native and foreign-born merchants and their relative economic preeminence within the city. But plays featuring the Royal Exchange also reveal something about the insistent gendering of space in representations of London as well as in its material practices. Although the main floor of the Exchange was a male-dominated space, the upper pawn, or retail shopping area, contained large number of women, both consumers and shop attendants. The Fair Maid of the Exchange is one of the many plays of the period that refer to the women who work in the pawn, and in this case they become central figures in a plot that turns on their vulnerabilities and new-found powers within this public space. Collectively, the Exchange plays I examine reveal some of the tensions surrounding London's changing economy, the enforced cosmopolitanism entailed by its new commercial expansiveness, and the gender disequilibrium attendant on new economic practices.
Chapter 2 switches perspective and looks not at the place where big money could be made, that is, the Royal Exchange, but at the dreadful places, the London Counters, where people faced incarceration when money had been lost and credit denied. Once one starts to look, it is truly surprising, at least surprising to me, how many London comedies mention either the Wood Street or the Poultney Street Counter and how many actually set part of the action in one or another of these institutions. Starting with Jonson's early play, Every Man out of His Humor (1600), which concludes with Sir Fastidius Brisk in one of the Counters, London comedies use these prisons to explore the social death that results from losing one's credit, a word that encompasses both one's reputation and one's ability to accrue debt. Playing on the internal structure of the debtors' prison, with its purgatorial descent from the privileges of the Master's Ward to the miseries of the Hole, dramatists construct the prisons as sites of social undoing and material divestiture as prisoners, time and again, shed their clothing in the course of their incarceration, spiraling down to the absolute privations of the Hole. Central as this descent is to the Counter narratives, London comedies ring surprising changes on their basic tales of prodigality undone. Sometimes a harrowing of hell occurs, and the prodigal steps forth as a new man, liberated by acts of charity. Sometimes the debtor is cast as victim, rather than as guilty prodigal, and Counter narratives become occasions to query the mysterious operations of the market or the venality of creditors. Occasionally, the Counters are transformed from sites of punishment to performative spaces in which the theatrical cleverness of the prodigal, rather than his repentance, garners his release. In each case, however, the Counter becomes a space for negotiating the place of debt in urban life and for constructing and querying the social logics by which one's "credit" is or is not made dependent on financial viability. Interestingly, in the overwhelming majority of Counter narratives, the debtor is male. For reasons I explore in Chapter 3, the Counters are gendered as male spaces, and the basic Counter narrative of the death of social identity is rendered as a male story.
By contrast, the third social place I examine, the London whorehouse, while it involves men, tends to give at least equal billing to women. In fact, I argue that whorehouse narratives become a chief site for negotiating the changing nature of women's place within urban culture. A recurring trope found in these comedies, that of the conversion of chaste maids into whores and whores into wives, is especially crucial in foregrounding anxiety about the malleability of women's identities in the new circumstances that pertain in the metropolis and puts in question the comfortingly stable and discrete categories of maid, wife, widow, and whore that characterize much prescriptive literature of the period. While the whorehouse is sometimes represented in London comedy as a moralized space where female guilt is revealed, more often whorehouse narratives are marked by a high-spirited flouting of moralizing discourses. This is even true, I argue, when the whore herself is seen as the bearer of a contaminating foreignness. Ironically, while whorehouses are sometimes constructed as sites of dangerous miscegenation, they are equally likely to be represented in London comedy as sites of a forgiving cosmopolitanism. Like representations of the Royal Exchange, whorehouses, I will show, are spaces where Londoners' relationship to the world beyond its shores is negotiated, though in a refreshingly irreverent fashion. Unlike the Royal Exchange or the Counters, however, the bawdy houses of London comedy are often generic places, though frequently they are given quite specific geographic locations, and occasionally an historical whorehouse, like Holland's Leaguer, is used as the setting in a particular play.
The same thing is true of the final places I will examine in this book, namely, the ballrooms and academies of manners that are so prominently featured in the town comedies of the 1620s and 1630s. A few comedies, such as Brome's The New Academy, refer directly to specific London academies such as Francis Kynaston's Museum Minervae, established at the west end of Bedford's Covent Garden piazza in 1635. More often, however, academies of manners are generic places, though they are nearly all located in fashionable West End areas outside the old walled city. Common to all the plays featuring such places, however, is their intense preoccupation with the inculcation of new regimes of manners and bodily discipline. A chief actor in each is the dancing master, the Galliards, Lightfoots, and Frisks who pirouette and bow their way through the plots, dispensing advice about the proper management of foot and hand, the right way to bow, and the wrong way to do a fashionable dance. Plays featuring ballrooms and academies, I suggest, use these places to model new standards of deportment, the acquisition of which becomes both crucial cultural capital in a town setting and a new means to discriminate between those who matter and those who do not. Consequently, the incompetent boor, the person who cannot dance and cannot manage a proper bow, is as necessary to such plots as the dancing master, for it is such a figure who defines what is unacceptable behavior within these emerging spaces of social privilege. Moreover, the relentless emphasis on the French origins of these new bodily regimes raises in a fresh register the enduring preoccupation within London comedy with the relationship between what is native to the city and what is alien or foreign. Almost always, the dancing master who teaches and corrects English bodies is of French origins, and anxiety about the consequences of foreign cultural practices on English bodies is given forceful representation by his ubiquitous presence. An object alternately of scorn and emulation, he is nonetheless omnipresent—simultaneously a reminder of the elegance the English lack and would acquire, and of the effeminacy they scorn.
The gendering of academy spaces is particularly complex. Some fictional academies serve both men and women, but gender identities within these spaces are never secure. As the ambivalence surrounding Frisk suggests, masculinity is at risk in an arena where acquiring new skills in bodily deportment both authorizes gentlemanly status and also threatens to compromise native English manliness. For women, the dangers of ballroom and academy are even greater as the practices of these spaces authorize the intense speculation of the female body and blur, even in these fashionable arenas, the boundaries separating reputable and disreputable women. This book ends with Margaret Cavendish's The Female Academy (1662), a withering riposte to the ways in which London comedies of the Caroline period had imagined the participation of women in academy culture.
A number of threads bind together the arguments developed in each of the ensuing chapters. A focus on place anchors each chapter as I explore the dramatic stories through which places become significant social spaces and arenas for negotiating particular urban problems. But the book loosely traces a geographical progress, as well, as the locus of London comedy slowly moves west from the walled city toward the fashionable West End. I begin with the Royal Exchange located in the very heart of the old city and then explore the Counters, far less monumental structures than the Exchange, but still located within its geographical orbit. The chapter on the bawdy houses of London, however, has a much broader geographical reach. Once Henry VIII dissolved the Bankside whorehouses in the 1540s, places of prostitution proliferated both within the city proper and in all the surrounding suburbs. Some, such as Holland's Leaguer, flourished in the traditional Bankside location, but others sprang up within the walls and at every compass point without. Consequently, one of the things I explore in Chapter 3 is the ubiquity of places of prostitution and the connections between this expansion and other kinds of economic and social change that marked the city's growth. The final chapter, on ballrooms and academies, is based firmly in the West End where these places became part of the ensemble of fashionable resorts in which a new regime of manners and bodily deportment was both constructed and displayed. The book, then, is designed to move from the ceremonial and commercial center of the old walled city to the expanding suburbs and the fashionable West End.
Whatever the geographical locations examined in these London plays, however, one thing that remains constant is their preoccupation with gender relations and definitions. The city, as I will demonstrate throughout, was a place where both status and gender relations were constantly being renegotiated. Urban life created new places for women to work, such as the pawn at the top of the Royal Exchange, and new places such as dancing schools and academies of manners to display and refashion their bodies. Even the oldest occupation, prostitution, took on new forms in the post-reformation city as the sanctioned stews were dissolved and the places of prostitution became more varied, some becoming indecipherable from everyday taverns and houses, others, like Holland's Leaguer, becoming landmarks in their own right. Through their stories of brothels, bourses, and ballrooms, London comedies repeatedly, even obsessively, attempt to come to terms with the changing place(s) of women in urban life and to draw and redraw the boundaries of permissible action.
The same is true, though in a different way, for men. Some forms of masculinity, such as those founded on martial skill, are largely peripheral to the genre of London comedy. Rank remained crucial to male identity, but in the urban context it was challenged by money-based forms of status and by a new emphasis on what I call performative masculinity, that is, the ability to master codes of fashionability and to comport oneself with distinction in the city's emerging arenas for mannerly display. Ironically, stories of the Counters, in which masculine social identity could effectively be obliterated, provide some of the most complex narratives about the pressures on masculinity in the urban context and the struggle between old and new ways of achieving and displaying masculine privilege. For both men and women, having money was one way of achieving status, but only one way. In the academy comedies of the Caroline period, for example, the privileges of both birth and wealth are challenged by an emphasis on new kinds of cultural competencies having to do with deportment, manners, and a sophisticated sense of personal and social style.
Identity is never formed except relationally, and hence the emphasis throughout the book on the mutually defining and ever changing relationship of men with women in the London context and on the relationship of native English men and women with those who are strangers to the city. When Frederick described London, he was struck by the international cast of the ships anchored at its docks, ships from France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Hamburg, and beyond. Those ships brought products from distant places into London markets, and they also brought strangers into every corner of the city, including its taverns, whorehouses, theaters, and places of commercial exchange. How London comedy negotiated foreign encroachments is a major theme threading its way throughout my argument. In the Exchange plays, strangers figure prominently as players in London's high-stakes commercial life and put considerable pressure on Englishmen's sense of their own preeminence in their purpose-built bourse. But the proper relationship of Englishman with alien is a topic revisited in the many whore comedies of the Jacobean stage and, in a different way, in Caroline academy comedies in which it is foreign standards of comportment, as much as literal foreigners, that pose the threat and the challenge to English identity.
Thomas Heywood, that tireless apologist for the city and its actors and playwrights, felt that London theater of his time and place was worthy of comparison to the best theater produced by the great cosmopolitan cities of both past and present. I think he was right. Post-reformation London provided the conditions of possibility that allowed a vigorous commercial theater of marked sophistication to flourish. The plays I examine in this book, taking London places as their setting and urban life as their theme, reveal the remarkable synergy between the city and its entertainment industry and make evident the theater's role in imagining London and the new forms of social life and social identity flourishing within it.